I ride my orange bike on the creek path, the world quick glimpses. Five ravens in the middle of the street eating roadkill. A strip of water beside the curb on the other side, sprinkler runoff. They slow hop and waddle between the two, easy together. I grin at this offer of adjacent food and drink, this perfect impromptu dining. When I am past, I see one lone raven sitting in the shade beside the path watching them. And then they are all behind me, and I ride toward the San Jacintos. I think about going back to move the dead animal off the road and onto the sand beside the path to keep the scavengers safe from speeding cars. But I decide the car that hit the squirrel or rabbit has adhered it to the asphalt, so it’s perfect for pecking out morsels, and if I moved it, it would be loose and flap around when they tried to eat and be harder to share. That settles it for me. I don’t have to debate further, consider every angle, wonder if I might cause a fuss moving it, get a raven hit by a car, cause harm trying to help. But sometimes it feels impossible to know, and choosing is agony. Later, on my ride home, one raven stands in the center of the street. The water has dried up, as if it was never there. The other ravens sit quiet and still beside the path in that same spot of shade beneath the two short palms and the desert orchid tree, each strong, curved beak open wide in the late morning heat.
I seem to always be becoming someone new. For decades now my life has turned toward becoming whole, becoming more and more of who I want to be, becoming well, becoming comfortable in my skin. I have small rushes of time when I can feel it burgeoning in me, swept up in some big gateway. Sometimes I feel aware of being in the heart of one big transition. Other times I can sense a series of transitions, moving toward the me I want, the life I long for. Stepping in more fully, feet planted in the earth, joy flying, humble and grateful. Not arriving, or only for a moment, but always becoming.
[Editor’s note: This was a short, timed writing from our daylong Zoom retreat on June 22nd. It is lightly edited here.]
Before the election, I turn from my mailbox to see my neighbor Ted and his dog Buster walking toward me. They look happy. “I just got a letter from Mike Bloomberg,” I say. Ted teases me about how Mike and I can’t keep our relationship secret much longer, and I fall in step with them on their slow walk home. We talk politics, about who we are voting for in the primaries, about how much we both like Elizabeth Warren. We fix the world, talk about the environment. That gets me going about banning Roundup, and we talk about how people would have to be willing to tolerate some weeds or actually pull some weeds, give up a little on the pristine. We talk about edible weeds, my fondness for dandelions and their greens. (Right now another neighbor has some nice big ones behind his trailer I am quietly harvesting.) At my gate we stop. “Well, I have to get going,” I say.
“Oh, sorry,” Ted says. “I’ll get off my soapbox.”
“No,” I say. “It’s always a pleasure.” But I am instantly sorry I said I had to go. Something under my skin bubbling up, the need to finish prepping my class before I leave. But I could have been happy standing there a few more minutes, fixing the world together. I wish I had.
I keep thinking I need to go to a big demonstration—for immigrants, for human rights—but when I hear recordings on NPR a part of me recoils. The chants feel too intense, too assaultive, beating against “them.” It isn’t what I want to be. It doesn’t feel nonviolent. People say Mother Teresa refused to go to anti-war demonstrations, but if we ever held a rally for peace, she said, she’d be there. I want that, a sea of humankind, all swaying and singing “Give Peace a Chance” (hippie osmosis from my childhood). What happened to Gandhi, to King? What happened to peaceful resistance? Can’t we make up songs to sing instead of screaming angry chants? Songs that connect us, singing together in the streets, on freeways or tarmacs, our voices carrying across cities, drifting across the sea. I read that in the wake of the havoc and vitriol President Trump scattered across Europe earlier this month there was a music festival in London. Paul Simon and James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt were all there. Each one of them spoke up. None of them named the president, but every one of them voiced messages of encouragement, messages of love. I’m comforted to know these musicians who I’ve loved all my life were over there, counterpoint to our president’s chaos and hatred, letting people know there are other voices in the United States. Voices that want the world to know we aren’t all ugly and mean. We aren’t all afraid of women, of Muslims, of all the dark-skinned peoples of the world, or foreign tongues, or English spoken with a Mexican accent. We aren’t all afraid of gay marriage or body ink or people in wheelchairs. We aren’t afraid of learning to include all genders, all sexual preferences, to stand up for the rights of children and for a woman’s right to choose. What we are afraid of is losing our humanity inch by inch, of letting what binds us all together be whittled away little by little until it’s too late. What we are afraid of is allowing another holocaust. I wish I’d been in those quiet crowds at that music festival, singing along, soothed. I wonder if James Taylor sang “Shed a Little Light“?
[Editor’s note: Looking at my title now in the light of day—”We Aren’t All Afraid”—I think I might need to change it. Because maybe we ARE all afraid. We’re just afraid of very different things. And some of the same ordinary things, too.]
The psychic reading was so disturbing I had to do a cleansing ritual the next day. She came highly recommended, so it took me by surprise. I’m not sure I’ve finished sifting through it in the three weeks since we spoke on the phone. She rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning, and part of me wonders if I should have ended it right from the start, if that would have been the best way to take care of myself. But I didn’t. Early in the call I told her I was feeling defensive, but nothing changed. She told me I was intuitive and intelligent. But the rest felt like what I wasn’t doing or what I was doing wrong. The morning after the reading I tried to sort it all out. I’ve always felt validated and encouraged by a psychic reading. This one just made me feel bad. Most of it seemed true, but much of it felt unimportant, or it didn’t resonate, didn’t fully lodge in me. The way it was delivered hurt me. I cried it out. Then I got my rattle and burned some sage and sang a little song. I danced about my trailer, shaking my rattle, waving the burning sage, singing my exorcism. May I be clear of this. May I know what to take forward and what to discard. May I be cleansed of what feels wrong in this. The best I can tell, she was mixing up her own opinions with the information she received. I think much of what she told me was accurate, but I question the depth of it, the value. She insisted my father had a mustache. How could that matter? She told me I was lost, and maybe I am. But I didn’t feel a connection, didn’t feel any compassion. I think somehow she shamed me, but I understand another person, a person wired differently, may not have felt this way. The best parts, I think, were not getting lost in blaming her, and in trusting myself enough to honor my feelings, to reach for healing. And I trusted my instincts enough to take care of myself. When the notes she took during the reading came in the mail, I started to put them on the fridge in case I needed the reminders in the future. But I reached for the wooden matches and burned them in the kitchen sink instead.
I’m not done talking about this practice of recognizing and appreciating our goodness. I’m pretty sure it can be a gateway to accepting myself, a door I’ve been seeking for ages. But I don’t have much experience with it yet. Do you make a point of doing this? Do you appreciate even the tiny human decency kinds of things you do every day like holding the door open for a stranger at the laundromat or letting someone with only a couple of items go ahead of you in the grocery store? I want to start. I do notice when things make me feel good. When I exchange a real smile with someone out in the world, like last week on the creek path when a woman passed me and really smiled at me and I smiled back. Or a month ago when the man holding only one bottle of beer saw me walking back and forth at Ralph’s dejected by the long lines and insisted I go before him in his line. But these are their good things, not mine. And do I really want to write about the good things I do? I know when I’m in a group it makes me uncomfortable when I’m thanked for something little I have done, some small voluntary act. It goes back to high school, I think, squirming in my desk when the teacher praised my work. I don’t like being singled out. I don’t want to be made separate from the other people in the room. I don’t want anyone to feel less than. (Sometimes at the meditation center when the volunteers are being praised, I feel a little bit like that, because I am not volunteering, almost as if I am being shamed by comparison.) I think part of me would rather keep my small acts of kindness to myself. But I am a writer, and I want to tell my stories, so maybe this will be a part of it. If I can capture the way it feels, like those unexpected moments of intimacy when we pass a stranger on the street, then I want to do that. And I want to cherish my own small moments, let those moments of recognition work their magic on me. I want to let them finish melting the last of my unkindness toward myself, again and again, as often as it takes.
Longing to me is about being in a body, like Zora Neale Hurston and our little mudballs, wanting to “show our shine.” I think the earth herself holds a kind of longing in her, a kind of yearning or ache, a sadness, maybe. To me it’s all wrapped up together, these clumps of earth us, what it means to be a being in a body, longing to belong, the impermanence of things in this life we live.
[Editor’s note: written from a prompt from Creative Writing Prompts.]